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As business and community groups clash, environmental justice law seems dead

As business and community groups clash, environmental justice law seems dead

A state bill to strengthen environmental protections for low income communities appears dead for the second consecutive legislative session. This is because lawmakers fear the wrath from business groups in an election year.

Environmental groups argue that a law is needed in order to reduce the pollution from sources in communities already afflicted by bad air and other hazards. The proposal would add red tape and fees to businesses that could kill jobs.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker backed the idea of an environmental justice bill last year, but a bill was not debated in 2021. Advocates claim that the same bill is not getting enough votes in the final days of the current Springfield legislative session.

We will fight for this, Sen. Celina Valenueva, D.Chicago said Wednesday during an online news conference. It is a fact that Springfield is never really dead, even at the end. We will continue to fight.

One part of the proposal would increase the state’s construction permit fee to $200,000, a recommendation from Pritzkers Administration. It also provides additional government scrutiny for businesses that are major pollution sources and wish to operate in areas deemed overburdened by environmental stressors. The bill would increase the number areas that are considered already overburdened, according to industry groups.

The proposal would also require a public meeting to discuss a permit application for polluting companies and would require a health impact assessment. Similar proceedings were held in Chicago last year regarding a permit that was required by the city for Reserve Management Groups plans to build a scrap metal shredding plant on the Southeast Side. Last month, Mayor Lori Lightfoots’ health department rejected the permit.

Sims Metal Management, another metal-shredding firm, is currently in state permit process. Residents are calling to have a comprehensive health assessment done in the area.

Pritzkers Illinois Environmental Protection Agency claims it is working with community- and business groups to find common ground.

We look forward to continuing efforts with all parties with the aim of reaching an agreement that protects our communities, and ensures that the agency can execute its additional responsibility, Illinois EPA stated in a statement.

The fee is consistent to Illinois EPAs practice that permit applicants must pay fees that will go towards our administrative expenses, the agency said. The actual amount, as well as all other parts of the bill, are currently under discussion amongst interested parties.

The business groups claim supporters of the proposal won’t negotiate. However, community activists dispute that assertion, claiming it is the industry associations from the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and the Illinois Farm Bureau who don’t want to compromise.

Kim Wasserman, executive director at the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, stated that we have been open with them about what our proposals are since Day One. They want to redline all of the document, she said, referring to possible amendments to the bill.

The Illinois Chamber claimed that the bill does little to address the many concerns raised by businesses and offered suggestions for improvements.

The Illinois Manufacturers Association claims the measure will lead to economic stagnation in communities by imposing draconian fees, increasing permitting timeframes, superseding local government zoning decisions, conflicting with federal requirements, and causing unnecessary delays.

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These powerful lobbyists are joined in Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce (CC), National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), Home Builders Association of Illinois (HSA) and others.

Kevin Semlow said that certain parts of the bill were unclear, redundant, and didn’t make sense. Director of state legislation for Illinois Farm Bureau. All these changes in environmental laws have an impact on the activities of our members.

Pritzker and legislators are preparing for re-election in November, but the timing is not in favor of the measure.

The Senate leadership is resisting the legislation because it may be too controversial and it may need more work. Jennifer Walling is the executive director of Illinois Environmental Council and is lobbying for it.

Walling stated that if the law had been in place last year, less than a dozen state permits would have been approved. This is a small percentage of the total number.

A grant from The Chicago Community Trust made possible Brett Chase’s reporting on environment and public health.

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